Katherine Smith was born, and raised, in Mt. Airy. She ended up marrying the now famous R.J. Reynolds, who built a tobacco empire in Winston-Salem. While Mr. Reynolds ran the tobacco company, Katherine helped start medical and reading programs for the workers at Reynolds Tobacco Company, and also gave money and land for local schools.....while being the mother of their 4 children. Mr. Reynolds tragically died in 1918, leaving Katherine with these young children....and a fortune.
She remarried in 1921 to J. Edward Johnston, a school principal...who shared her love for education She then sadly died in 1924, shortly after having given birth to their only son -- J. Edward Johnston, Jr.
Mr. Johnston did not remain in Winston-Salem long after Katherine died. However, before he left, he had a memorial built for her, and gave it to the Reynolda Presbyterian Church. (Katherine had organized this church in 1915, having donated the land and paid for its construction). This memorial was in the form of an obelisk, and was placed about 200 yards behind the church (out of public view). This obelisk was 32 feet in height, and surrounded by low pink granite walls, arc-shaped benches and marble balustrades. The granite for this was brought in from Mt. Airy.
Being somewhat "hidden," this memorial became to be a place where teenagers hung out in the 50's and 60's. After the monument was vandalized in 1965, the Elders at Reynolda Presbyterian made the decision to move it closer to the church. It stayed there until 2003....when the church leadership decided to expand its facilities to accommodate the growth in membership. That decision meant that monument would have to again be moved.
The church elders contacted Katherine's grandchildren, to see if they wanted the monument. They did not. Sources say the monument is a "sore spot" in the Reynolds family history, as Katherine's name is inscribed on the monument as "Katherine Smith Johnston," Some people say that her husband intentionally left out the Reynolds name as a slight to that family.
Daniel Hartley of Natural Stone Co. in Lewisville was then contacted. In partnership with another quarry, he agreed to move the monument for no cost (having been given ownership of it). The obelisk was dismantled and moved to Mt Airy on April 23, 2003 (after having been in Winston-Salem for 76 years).
A comparable monument built brand new today would cost about $125,000.
Chris D. Hilton, a retired local construction executive, heard about the "plight" of this monument, and tried to get it moved back to Winston-Salem. He got in touch with Nick Bragg (the former Director of the Reynolda House, and past President of "Friends of Reynolds Auditorium"), and they got in touch with Dan Hartley. Mr. Hartley, who shared Mr. Hilton's interest in preserving the monument, wrote out an agreement, giving Chris time to raise the monies needed to get it moved back to Winston-Salem. He and Nick contacted the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board (which was headed up by Dr. Don Martin). Approval was granted for this monument to be placed on the grounds of the RJ Reynolds Auditorium. Said Reynolds High School Principal Stan Elrod: "there is probably no better place for the monument than here at Reynolds." (The Auditorium was a gift from Katherine to the city, as a memorial to her first husband. She died before its construction was completed.)
The monies were finally raised, and this proud 20-ton monument was brought back to Winston-Salem, and delivered to the Auditorium....and set in-place on Saturday morning, December 4, 2004.